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EP 3 How your relationships and the culture you cultivate will make or break your career with Sean Donald

By November 28, 2022No Comments

Regarded as one of the nicest guys on the Brisbane engineering scene, Sean Donald is also one of the most experienced. Although Sean has worked in civil construction for over twenty-five years, he’s also on the board of directors for the Civil Contractors Federation in Queensland. Sean certainly stands out in his approach to this industry as he believes culture and relationships are the key to longevity. While this unusual code of ethics is one that he actively applies to his role as General Manager at the Georgiou Group, bringing the best out in people is a quality that also spills out to some of his other pursuits, such as Sean’s passion for horses.

1:44 For a self-described country boy who wasn’t necessarily the smartest kid in the room, Lauren is eager to learn exactly how Sean ended up pursuing engineering as a career.

  • Oddly enough, it was Sean’s now mother-in-law that first floated the idea of working as an engineer. Although Sean’s Dad was an electrician and the family farm kept them all busy, Sean couldn’t quite grasp electrical engineering and soon turned to civil.
  • After graduating from university, Sean made the conscious choice to work for a smaller, family owned and operated company based in Archerfield that aligned with his personal values tied to loyalty.

5:08 Reflecting on the days when he had to fight his way through cigarette smoke and stacks of magazines just to find his desk in the office, Sean highlights what has changed in engineering.

  • While Sean is confident that there will always be a need for new buildings, bridges and roads, the engineering industry will continue with skills shortages until it learns to offer more flexible working conditions to attract more people to the sector.
  • Compared to the early eighties, Sean is thrilled to see more women than ever taking up the role of an engineer but believes that more work still needs to get into schools and educate students on what the role of an engineer actually involves.

7:57 Ever curious about expectations versus reality, Lauren quizzes Sean on what he thought life as an engineer would be like, compared to what the work actually involves.

  • With only one year to go for his studies, Sean opted to join a family friend for a day at his office. What Sean didn’t realise was that his chosen mentor was a design engineer, which resulted in a short lived ‘what have I done!?’ crisis before pivoting to construction.
  • At the time, Sean didn’t understand the distinctions between construction and design in engineering. Some projects might have you flying all over the world for years at a time, which may not suit everyone when trying to find their own niche.

9:10 Lauren points out that Sean has had amazing career progression despite only really having two jobs in over two decades and wants to know his insider tips for the next generation.

  • While acknowledging that today’s batch of engineering students want to climb the ranks quickly and progress, Sean believes it’s important to prioritise hard work over natural ability or intelligence. By staying consistent, opportunities came to him.
  • As a big believer in loyalty, Sean stresses that this doesn’t mean saying no to opportunities but to instead pursue internal options and give your 100% instead of looking elsewhere.

13:40 From his parents to his horses to a six foot four industry veteran dubbed the “Charolais Bull”, Sean reflects on the impact that his vast collection of mentors have had on him.

  • From his practical and straightforward father to his ‘hippy’ mother who always follows a good feeling, Sean shares how the very different viewpoints of his parents help him to make big decisions.
  • Although they are two very different animals, his horses have taught Sean how to communicate when someone or something doesn’t speak your language, and John “Charolais Bull” Reedy was a project manager who advised Sean to pick his battles.

17:12 Controversially, Sean tells Lauren it’s important to know when to ignore HR and go with what’s right. Naturally, Lauren needs a little more clarification on that statement.

  • Sean shares how some of his own personal challenges influenced his compassionate approach to work, particularly when his wife fell ill after the birth of their first child and he was under significant pressure at home and at work.
  • In order to make ethical business decisions, Sean advised to always have a moral compass to go by. For him, this set of personal boundaries were formed by his parents, particularly when it comes to learning from your mistakes.

19:42 Considering Sean’s long tenure in the construction sector, Lauren is curious to know what he hopes the industry will look like by the time he retires.

  • While Sean is already seeing more diversity at work – think pulling up to a job site and having a Porsche on one side and a Harley Davidson on the other – he strongly believes that the industry needs to attract more women in order to survive.
  • More businesses need to realise that workplace flexibility is the new normal and the sooner they catch up to hybrid working arrangements, job sharing and part time agreements, the more talent they are likely to appeal to wider audiences.

24:20 Lauren asks Sean for any advice that he would give to undergraduate engineers and what they can do to stand out and land their dream job.

  • Sean stresses that avoiding part time work as a means to achieve the perfect GPA score won’t help you when it comes to standing out to hiring managers and that hands-on experience will almost always benefit you.
  • Although Sean personally loves hiring country kids, ex hospo workers and applicants who have small business owners as parents, find a way to show that you can problem solve on the spot and aren’t afraid of getting your hands dirty.

32:00 Although Sean is well known for his love of equestrian and all things horses, Lauren wants to know how these hobbies positively influence his family, his work and his life.

  • While Sean has had a lifelong passion for horses, it wasn’t until his kids picked up the same hobby that he realised just how many lessons this pursuit had to offer, particularly when it comes to responsibility, discipline and even loss.
  • Sean shares that the similarities between horses and people aren’t lost on him: each horse has a different personality and requires a different approach and even horses have bad days just like us.

34:45 Getting work life balance right as a man isn’t always as talked about as it should be and Sean shares the impact of his family on his career and how he integrates the two.

  • In between school pick ups, drop offs and having the kids in his office has normalised being a working parent for Sean and his colleagues all collectively agree that Sean’s kids are very much a part of the team.
  • Sean stresses the importance of not wishing life away, particularly while your children are young and you’re dragged around to sports events every Saturday morning. For Sean, the reality is that those years are gone within the blink of an eye.

40:20 Lauren gets to the hard hitting questions during the ‘Building Doors’ Rocket Round and exclusive scoops include Sean’s lifelong love affair with iced coffee and the fact that he’s never seen snow.

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